Director, The Honors College
Houston Baptist University
Larry Geane Freeney Jr. graduated from Houston Baptist University in 2014, completing the Honors College curriculum and earning his bachelor of arts degree in psychology. After graduating, Larry completed his masters degree in counseling at HBU, and has gone on to pursue a PhD in counselor education through Sam Houston State University. Larry’s goals are to open up his own counseling practice and teach at the university level, and he’s currently working towards the 3,000 hours necessary to earn his professional counseling certification. Aside from his academic accomplishments at HBU, Larry was also quite popular on campus as evidenced by the many people who politely waved hello in passing while we spoke outside, including Dr. Sloan himself – proof that Larry’s warm heart and desire to serve others left a remarkable impact on HBU’s campus that has lingered long after he departed.
Sitting down with Larry, I was interested to hear, not only about his professional ventures, but also about his personal experiences as a student within the Honors College and at HBU. What brought him to the university? And how did his experiences here propel him towards his future work in counseling and, potentially, academia?
“I love teaching and I think I figured that out vicariously just through living life. I really love learning things that people don’t know and helping them learn more about it. Whether it’s through martial arts, through finances, even studying for our comprehensive exams, I just enjoy being a fountain of knowledge for other people. If you want to talk about it in terms of Harry Potter, Ravenclaw is my house. Everyone is like, ‘Yeah, I want to be a Griffindor,’ but when I sit back and think about it, I’m definitely a Ravenclaw.
“I think what drew me to the Honors College the most was the epic tales that it told. It wasn’t just ‘You’re going to college for math or science,’ but it was about the stories. As George R. R. Martin says, ‘The best stories are written when the human heart is in conflict with itself.’ In the Honors College we learn about the different avenues by which people tell the story of what it’s like to be human. I also really enjoyed the culture of the Honors College. You were a bunch of nerds, but you were a bunch of nerds who hung out together. It was great.”
Along with the study of philosophy, literature, and history, the Honors College also ensures that students are exposed to great works of art. Trips to the museums, lectures on concepts such as shape and form, discussions about the expression of art and man’s desire to participate in the act of creation – these are the lessons and insights that stick with our students long after they graduate, though often the recognition of their influence isn’t immediate, but settles in slowly as our students move forward after graduating.
“I feel like I didn’t take as much advantage of it at the time. Because at the time you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s class,’ and I feel like I’m in a place now, where when I go back and re-read that literature, I think ‘Wow this is so awesome!’ I just wish I could go back in time. It laid a really great foundation for me. When my wife and I finally went on our honeymoon, we went to Rome. And we got to witness the culture, the artwork, and the history. It was awesome to be able to integrate the knowledge that I’ve had in my head with what I was physically experiencing in the moment. Raphael, Michelangelo…it was just a transcendent moment, and it brought back that thought that ‘Man, I wasn’t really there.”
It should be noted that not every student who enters the Honors College finds the curriculum immediately agreeable. Many students find themselves face to face with material that they sincerely struggle to comprehend, and several of our students are interacting with these primary texts for the very first time. One thing we make sure our students understand is the importance in acknowledging just how much knowledge they lack, and even more essential that they learn how to confront their doubts and misunderstandings in an environment that fosters growth and encourages discussion in a positive way. I asked Larry what he would say to incoming Honors College students who may be struggling with the curriculum, and he offered some great words of encouragement:
“The fact that it is difficult is proof that you are learning. The next step is to take the knowledge that you have gained and apply it to your everyday life, to who you are as a person. In psychology, and in counseling, we call this assimilation. We have this new experience or knowledge and we take what works for us and discard the rest. The Honors College is a journey of what you are going to take with you and how you carry it throughout your life. No matter how difficult it is, no matter how much you are struggling, stick with it. You have to want it to achieve it. If you do have the want, and the desire to learn, it is a stepping-stone. At the end of the Honors College program, you will realize how what you are learning from semester to semester is designed to be intricately integrated and how it works together to form one whole.”
While the Honors College program is rooted in its scholarly work and its emphasis in developing reading, writing, and discussion skills, we also recognize the importance of a genuine community and of having good fun with both faculty and peers. Sometimes in academia there is a tendency to become so dialed in on deadlines, meetings, and coursework, that joy of the learning can be difficult to find. The Honors College works to provide students the opportunity to let loose and unwind, through various uniquely-Honors College events, in order to remind our students that reading great books is altogether more rewarding when shared with good company. So, what was Larry’s favorite event?
“Definitely, the Honors College end-of-year video. I think we were the first people to do that, and it was just nonsense. I also really loved Field Day. Field Day was just awesome. No matter what happened, no matter how far behind we were in points, Augustine put in work on Field Day. Just destroyed. Like, I went there and I bled for the Honors College, I bled for house Augustine! People say well, “Oh, that’s nerdy,” but they don’t really understand what that means, they don’t understand the community. We have professors who are so skilled in what they teach and so willing to share that knowledge with the students. You can visually see how passionate they are about it. Dr. Markos is actually one of the biggest reasons why I want to become a professor. You can see the passion he has and how he integrates it into everything, just a walking encyclopedia. It’s great.”
As our conversation dwindled, I was eager to know: what happens when our Honors Scholars leave our community? It is our hope that we have instilled within them—aside from their many academic achievements—virtue, honesty, and a strong desire to pursue truth and beauty in the world around them. Aside from learning to read, write, and discuss things well, we hope to have established some sense of community and belonging, and as Larry describes, that sort of community doesn’t just disappear once you leave the classroom.
“The Honors College is a unique experience. Even though I might not be close with everyone from my year, it’s really great to know that that community is still there. I see their posts on Facebook, people getting married, starting their families, the things that they are accomplishing; it’s this experience that I cherish the most.”
The Honors College undoubtedly forms a solid foundation for its students, welcoming them into a community of lifelong learners. Regardless of where their paths lead them in life, our students press on, better able to care for themselves and others and unafraid to ask big questions and seek hard answers.
Larry’s interview is one of the many forms of outreach that the Honors College has planned for its alumni in the coming year. We recently hosted our inaugural alumni social and we enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with over twenty local alumni. If you are an Honors College alumni and would like to get plugged into our events, please contact us directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!
Kenneth Peters is a senior student and graduate of the Honors College at Houston Baptist University. He is set to graduate from HBU this spring with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and desires to work with at-risk youth and minorities in the Houston area, including work in the public school system and local prison reform. During his time at HBU, Kenneth has participated in numerous clubs and organizations on campus including the Rex Fleming improv troupe Verbal Winks, the worship band Focus, and the university worship band REFUGE. Kenneth has also made the dean’s list numerous years and was the Honors College sophomore student of the year in 2017. Kenneth is an outstanding student both inside the Honors College and in the HBU community, and we are excited to feature him in this issue of News and Notes.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have always enjoyed athletics, specifically football. I enjoy reading, chess, and listening to music. I also write and create hip-hop records under the name “k.pete.” Some interesting facts about me include my love for french toast, my adoration for animals (specifically owls, kangaroos, and wolves), and the rock collection I have curated since elementary school.
How did you come to join the Honors College?
I joined the Honors College due to the community and supportive professors it offers. I had an interest for the material and saw an opportunity for growth and humility.
What have you learned about yourself this year?
This year God has blessed me with the chance to learn more about His grace and forgiveness. Throughout the conclusion of my senior year, I have consistently been reminded of my insufficiency and ineptness when it comes to figuring out my life post graduation. I have struggled being a good friend, brother, son, and student, yet God’s grace has delivered me to a place of security and hope. Although fears and criticisms demand control over my life, the Lord has been a defender and shepherd in my struggles. He has taught me to love and work for the things and people in my life presently, and that He has control and establishment over any steps He has graced me in the future.
What are you most excited for in the future?
I am excited for the plans God has in store for me. He has provided great opportunity and clarity regarding my calling, and I am eager to discover the ways in which He intends to use me. I am also nervous, but excited, to find and contribute to a new community.
What do you love most about being in the Honors College?
What I love most about the Honors College is its dependability as a program. I can count on the relationships that I have built in the Honors College to be lasting and available. Whether alumni, seniors, or current students, the Honors College is a hospitable program that welcomes the involvement and relationship with all students who have been a part of it.
What was the most challenging book that you read during your time in the Honors College?
The most challenging book I have read during my time in the Honors College is Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is challenging because he pushes me to be more Christ-like in my community. The importance of loving one’s neighbor and living as a part of the body of Christ became a new and terrifying reality for me, especially as an introvert.
Dr. Anthony Joseph is a Professor of History at Houston Baptist University and also teaches in the Honors College. He earned his BA through the Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin and went on to earn his PhD in History at Princeton University. Dr. Joseph is relatively new to the Honors College, but his expertise in history and his dedication to his students is well known on campus and an undeniable asset to our program. Most recently, Dr. Joseph has spearheaded the launch of the master of arts in history at HBU, which was recently approved by SACSCOC and will launch in the Fall of 2019.
What led you to Houston Baptist University?
I was born on a pirate ship, but soon my parents tired of that life and settled with their seven kids in a quiet and respectable port known as San Antonio. Raised a Catholic, I attended Catholic schools until I went off to college at the University of Texas at Austin. There I studied in a liberal arts program known as Plan II; joined a student group known as Intervarsity Christian Fellowship; and read a lot of books by a writer known as C. S. Lewis. I went on to graduate school in history at Princeton and married my wife Jessica, whom I had first met at UT–Austin. We have three children. My teaching career began at Eastern University, a Baptist-affiliated college in the Philadelphia area, in 2000. I enjoyed my years at Eastern, but both Jessica and I wanted to return to Texas. So when a position opened up at HBU I eagerly applied for it. I knew nothing more of HBU than that its president, Robert Sloan, was keen on a fresh integration of faith and reason in American higher education. That was certainly my cup of tea. My family and I arrived in Houston in August 2008, just in time for Hurricane Ike.
What do you enjoy most about studying and teaching history?
When I was in high school and college I noticed how often people referenced history in their discussions of important philosophical questions. I felt attracted to that particular piece of the discussion—the historical piece. Why did people of the past believe and speak and act as they did—and what does their record tells us about human nature, about God, about the ultimate purpose of our lives? I still find this angle on history to be the most rewarding and the most enjoyable. Studying and teaching history should involve a lot of philosophy and theology. It must be more than an unrelenting march of facts.
Why do you thinkit is important to teach history from a Christian worldview?
We want to understand the past, as much as possible, as God understands it, as much as God wants us to understand it. Christian truth illuminates historical truth—shines a light on realities about the past that might otherwise remain in the shadows. Teaching history from a Christian worldview does not, however, give me a license to convert the past into a catalog of Christian triumphs; to stand constantly in abstract judgment upon the misdeeds of previous generations; or to reduce past human experience to a few simple spiritual platitudes. It does mean placing our knowledge of the human being at the service of truly understanding the subjective experience of past generations and seeing how that might point to God’s redemptive work in human history.
What are some aspects of the Honors College program that you find unique—what is your “favorite” thing about the Honors College curriculum?
The beautiful stream of great texts is a unique feature of the Honors College program. There are many honors programs in colleges and universities across the land, but very, very few offer students the kind of contact with the great texts that the Honors College offers. In most other cases, great texts are integrated into lecture-driven courses covering particular subject areas. Here, the great texts are the courses. This core experience of the program is probably my favorite thing about it.
The Honors College stresses the importance of integrating art and culture into its curriculum. Is there a piece of art, such as a painting or piece of music, that you believe best represents a turning point in history?
For most of my life I’ve been a man more for words than for images. But in recent years art has become a new love for me. A historical turning point appears in a series of American paintings of women that are discussed in Susan Klepp’s book Revolutionary Conceptions. These portraits depict a changing ideal of womanhood in the eighteenth century. The colonial era pieces show women with flowers, harvest produce, and the like, to symbolize women’s basic natural capacity to bear children. Paintings of the post-revolutionary era, by contrast, illustrate women reading books, instructing children, and engaged in activities that emphasize the life of the mind. Klepp argues that the “demographic transition” that began in the Revolutionary era—the decrease in childbearing among American women—was tied to this changing ideal of womanhood that is itself charted in American art.
One of the questions we ask applicants to the Honors College to answer is “How do you think the study of history could improve your friendships?” How would you answer this question?
Almost every semester I ask my history students: If you became best friends with an HBU student during your years here, but you learned nothing about his or her pre-HBU past, could you really say you knew your best friend? Knowledge of history can deepen a friendship by enabling friends to discuss important questions—moral, philosophical, spiritual—through consideration of the historical past. But I also believe that the studying of history trains the mind (and heart) to be open to a human being—a friend—in all of his or her depth—to see that friend as a composite of experiences past as well as present—to take care not to rush to judgment about his or her actions. Anyone who has studied history becomes better equipped to discover and appreciate the hidden depths of a friend.
Of the current literature on the Honors College reading list, which text speaks to you the most? Which book are you most excited for students to engage with?
So hard to choose. Usually I am most excited about the book I have most recently led a discussion on. At the moment, that would be Milton’s Paradise Lost. I love, of course, the work’s high theme—the falls, both angelic and human. There is much to quarrel with in Milton’s depiction of the relationship between Adam and Eve, but the way he unites events in the cosmos with the intimate experience of two human beings who, ultimately, are quite like ourselves, is really to be treasured. I very much enjoy hearing students respond to a work that must strike close to every human heart.
This month’s book feature was reviewed by Dr. Julianna Leachman, Director of The Academy, Honors College Professor, and Assistant Professor of English at HBU. Dr. Leachman earned her PhD in comparative literature from the University of Texas at Austin. Russian literature is among her favorite genres, and she offers great insight into why we ask our students, not only to read and analyze a book of its length, but to reflect upon its themes of forgiveness, suffering, and free will.
Before Ivan Karamazov recites his controversial poem, “The Grand Inquisitor,” for his brother Alyosha in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov (1881), Ivan states plainly, “Some people need one thing, but we green youths need another, we need first of all to resolve the everlasting questions, that is what concerns us.” In fact, the entirety of this nearly 800-page Russian novel is concerned precisely with these so-called everlasting questions: Does God exist, and if he does, is he good? What about evil? Are repentance and regeneration possible for even the worst offenders of mankind? Is forgiveness possible? Can virtue exist apart from faith in Christ? How should we think rightly about suffering? What does it mean to love another person?
In his final and greatest novel, Dostoevsky (1821-81) tells the story of one family, the Karamazovs, to explore the nature of these questions that had concerned him all his life. An early supporter of utopian socialism, Dostoevsky was arrested and sentenced to death for his youthful revolutionary activities. At the last minute his sentence was commuted to hard labor in Siberia, an experience which profoundly transformed Dostoevsky’s beliefs. Through his experiences living alongside some of the most hardened criminals imaginable, Dostoevsky came to understand the possibility and promise of Christ’s redemption even in the face of the most unimaginable, inhuman evil.
Brothers Karamazov is included in the reading list for the final semester of the Honors College curriculum. Third-year Honors College students read this important work as part of “The Story of Scripture” class, allowing them to consider the “everlasting questions” it poses in the context of the unified biblical narrative and the entire Honors College curriculum.
—Dr. Julianna Leachman